Ricardo Gonzalez is on course to follow in the footsteps of compatriot Eduardo Romero and make it an Argentine double in the Omega European Masters as he takes a two stroke advantage into the final round at Crans-sur-Sierre.
Twelve months ago Romero captured his seventh European Tour title by winning in the Swiss Alps by a staggering ten strokes. This year Gonzalez has carried the Argentine flag having led from the start although he was reeled in by the chasing pack during the today’s third round. At one point no fewer than four players shared the lead before Gonzalez pulled clear with a magnificent eagle three on the 15th. Birdie opportunities on the 17th and 18th went begging but the 31 year old remained at the head of the field, completing a round of 68, three under par, for a 13 under par aggregate of 200 as he chases his maiden European Tour title.
He leads New Zealand’s Stephen Scahill by two with Denmark’s Soren Hansen and England’s Greg Owen a further shot off the pace.
Gonzalez last won in 1998 when he captured the Tusker Kenya Open on the Challenge Tour on the way to securing his card for The European Tour. So far this season he has recorded five top tens, most recently in the TNT Open when he finished joint seventh, but has never led a European Tour event going into the final round.
“I will try to hit the ball well and be patient tomorrow,” he said. “The key to my round was to be patient because the birdies wouldn’t fall but I knew they would come. I had to be patient.
“The 15th hole is a difficult hole for me because I can shoot low scores but I have to be able hit a good drive on the fairway which is not easy. If I do like I did today then it is an easy hole.”
After hitting a drive 330 yards Gonzalez then floated a seven iron 180 yards to 15 feet for an eagle three. He had the chance to increase his advantage but didn’t read the break on two putts on the final two holes.
Scahill made his move on the front nine, birdieing the first two holes and then picking up two more on the eighth and ninth. But the birdies dried up over the back nine and he had to settle for a round of 68, three under par.
“I didn’t really play that well over the back nine,” said the 31 year old, who is also seeking his first win on The European Tour. “Didn’t really have any chances at all. It was more a case of scrambling through. Holed some nice putts for par, a couple of nice up and downs.
“It was a funny day from the point of view I would have liked to have made it a bit easier and gave myself a few more chances. But I am in a mindset to take whatever comes for me. Try to isolate each hole and do the best I can on that one hole, move on the next and add it all up at the end.
“I’m certainly there with a sniff and if I can get off to the start I did today I have a chance. Get through the first four holes under par. I said at the start of the week that if I could get through those holes even par that was pretty good. Yesterday I was three under and today two under.
“I would love to get off to a great start tomorrow and really test these guys out. If I can get that front nine three under it will give me every chance of playing the back nine well and having a go at it.”
With Thomas Bjorn forced to withdar with an injury to his left shoulder, it was left to Soren Hansen to fly the Danish flag in the Swiss Alps. He birdied both the par fives on the front nine but his two birdies coming home were cancelled out by two bogeys on his way to a 68 and ten under par aggregate of 203.
Owen on the other hand charged up the leaderboard with a burst of four birdies in five holes from the 12th to join Hansen at ten under par.